News Latin America Venezuelan Rafael Cadenas receives the Cervantes Prize for Literature

Venezuelan Rafael Cadenas receives the Cervantes Prize for Literature

(CNN Spanish) — The writer and poet Rafael Cadenas received this Monday, in an act headed by the kings of Spain, the Cervantes Prize for Literature in 2022.

The jury that announced the decision in November highlighted his “vast and extensive” literary work, making him the first Venezuelan to win this award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

With this award, Cadenas, 92, joins a long list of writers recognized with the Cervantes Prize for Literature, including renowned authors such as Octavio Paz (1981), Carlos Fuentes (1987), Mario Vargas Llosa ( 1994), Alvaro Mutis (2001), Elena Poniatowska (2013), Ida Vitale (2018) and Cristina Peri Rossi (2021).

Cadenas, who currently lives in France, was born in Barquisimeto, Lara state, Venezuela, in April 1930. He belongs to the generation of 1960 writers, along with others from the Tabla Redonda group, such as Arnaldo Acosta Bello, Jesus Guedez, Angel Eduardo Acevedo , Darlo Lancini, Jose Barroeta and Sanoja Hernandez.

His profession as a writer has been combined with university teaching, the translation of English poetry texts and an extensive essay writing career that is considered “a benchmark for contemporary literary thought in Spanish”, according to the jury of the Cervantes Prize that awarded him this 10th of November, an award that contradicts one of his most recognized works, the poem Defeat.

Despite being one of the most important writers in the Spanish language, with international awards such as the Federico Garcia Lorca Poetry Prize in 2016, the Romance Languages ​​Literature Prize at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in 2009 and the National of Literature of Venezuela in 1985, he says, with a shy personality of little and slow speech, that the prizes scare him.

“I have never thought about prizes. That has simply happened and they rather scare me,” he said in 2018 during the presentation of the Anthology of his work, It is not my face, at the University of Salamanca.

“I’ve had several awards. That doesn’t mean I’m the best,” he added, pointing to the large amount of poetry, especially in the last 20 years, in his home country.

Returning to the present and his work, the Cervantes Prize jury said that Cadenas has “the transcendence of a creator who has made poetry a reason for his own existence and has taken it to heights of excellence in our language.” He also stressed that his work “demonstrates the transformative power of the word when the language is taken to the limit of its creative possibilities.”

With books such as Around Language and Notes on Saint John of the Cross and Mysticism, Cadenas “distils their dazzling essence from words, placing them in the dual territory of sleep and wakefulness and making his poems a deep expression of existence itself and the universe, also placing them in a dimension that is both mystical and earthly”, added the jury when awarding him the Cervantes prize, which is endowed with 125,000 euros.

Politics and his literary work

Cadenas, who describes himself as a quiet person and who tries to be “aware” of the world around him, has combined literature with politics, militating in the Communist Party of Venezuela during his youth, for which he was imprisoned and lived in exile during the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez, in the 1950s.

“I have said that in Venezuela there was a democratic practice, like 40 really bright years,” Cadena said in 2018 at the University of Salamanca in Spain. “Although proposed there was corruption, but I think they were the best years in our history. But, what happened? That there was democratic practice, but not democratic education. And I think that democracy transcends the political. It is something very internal” .

He says that Walt Whitman is for him one of the most important writers, because he carried out a “revolution” with his originality and is “the symbol of democracy.”

Among his most outstanding writings are Defeat and Failure, two poems that are counterparts, antagonists, but complement each other in their poetic vision.

The first, Defeat, is an iconic poem for the 1960s generation, but one that reflects the vision of a 30-year-old, who has naturally changed over the years. He says that he wrote it during a depressive period of his life, at the age of 30, and says that he did not write it as a poem, but as sentences that went in the same direction.

“That poem was not written by me, but by a 32-year-old,” he said. “It’s true. Because one is current.”

“Today I don’t think like what the poem reflects Defeat. Not because I feel triumphant, but because I differ from some of the ideas that are in this poem… I really feel very far from that poem today, “added Cadenas about one of his most recognized works.

And of Failure, the other side of the coin, he says that the consciousness with which he identifies is embodied.

“More than rebellious, I try to be conscious because consciousness is above thought. Consciousness or the mind is the one that sees thought. I think there is a poem called Failure,” he said in 2018.

And although, in Defeat he talks about a dark moment in his life, the truth is that Cadena has been highlighted as one of the great writers of letters in Spanish.

His work includes some outstanding books such as Cantos iniciales (1946); An island (1958); The notebooks of exile (1960 and 2001); the poem “Defeat” (1963); false maneuvers (1966); Weathering (1977); Memorial(1977); Lover (1983 and 2002); Sayings (1992); Managements (1992); Anthology (1958-1993) (1996 and 1999); Selected poems (2004, 2006, 2009). It has been translated into French, Italian and English and has been read in the United States, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, England, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Santo Domingo, Costa Rica, Colombia and Argentina.

Three poems by Rafael Cadenas

‘Every Encounter’

Each encounter protects us from memory,

Between us, no moment is king.
All are born, resonate and disappear.
You are the one who tells immobility stop.
You choose the best wine, the one that transports intensity.
The wine of the attentive.
I hear the woes of the chimera.
Someone besieged clings to the ancient stream,
Time. You exude the smell of the storm.
Only rubble remains of the kingdom.
Go back to the wells where you never really were.
Find the secret to return.
Do not get lost in the chamber of questions.

‘Defeat’ (1963)

I have never had a trade
that before every competitor I have felt weak
that I lost the best titles for life
that as soon as I get to a place I already want to leave (believing that moving is a solution)
that I have been denied in advance and mocked by the fittest
that I lean against the walls so as not to fall completely
that I am laughing at myself
I thought my father was eternal
that I have been humiliated by literature teachers
that one day I asked how I could help and the answer was a laugh
that I will never be able to make a home, or be brilliant, or succeed in life
that I have been abandoned by many people because I hardly speak
that I am ashamed for acts that I have not committed
how close I was to start running down the street
that I have lost a center that I never had
that I have become the laughing stock of many people for living in limbo
that I will never find someone to support me
that I was neglected for the sake of people more miserable than me
that I will continue like this all my life and that next year I will be mocked many times more in my ridiculous ambition
I’m tired of receiving advice from others more lethargic than me
(“You are very quiet, wake up, wake up”)
that I will never be able to travel to India
that I have received favors without giving anything in return
that I walk through the city from one side to another like a feather
that I let myself be carried away by the others
I don’t have personality nor do I want to have it
that all day I cover up my rebellion
that I have not gone to the guerrillas
that I have not done anything for my people
that I am not from the FALN and I despair for all these things and for others
whose enumeration would be endless
I can’t get out of my prison
that I’ve been written off everywhere for useless
that in reality I have not been able to get married or go to Paris or have a serene day
I refuse to acknowledge the facts
I always drool over my story
that I am an idiot and more than an idiot from birth
that I lost the thread of the speech that was running in me and I have not been able to find it
I don’t cry when I feel like doing it
I’m late for everything
that I have been ruined by so many marches and countermarches
I yearn for perfect immobility and impeccable haste
that I am not what I am nor what I am not
that despite everything I have a satanic pride even though at certain hours
I have been humble until equal to the stones
that I have lived fifteen years in the same circle
that I believed myself predestined for something out of the ordinary and I have achieved nothing
that I will never wear a tie
I can’t find my body
that I have perceived my falsehood by lightning and I have not been able to knock myself down,
sweep everything and create from my indolence, my floating,
my loss a new freshness, and obstinately
I commit suicide at hand
I will get up from the most ridiculous ground to continue making fun of others
and me until the day of reckoning.


How much I have taken for victory is just smoke.
Failure, background language, clue to another, more demanding space,
difficult to interread is your handwriting.

When you put your mark on my forehead, I never thought of the message
that you brought, more precious than all the triumphs.

Your flaming face has haunted me and I didn’t know it was for
save me.

For my sake you have relegated me to the corners, you denied me easy
successes, you have taken away my exits.

It was me you wanted to defend by not giving me shine.

Out of pure love for me you have handled the emptiness that so many nights
He has made me speak feverishly to an absent one.

To protect me you gave way to others, you have made a woman
prefer someone more determined, you displaced me from suicidal trades.

You have always come to the fore.

Yes, your body wounded, spit on, hateful, has received me in my most
pure form to surrender to the sharpness of the desert.
Out of madness I cursed you, I mistreated you, I blasphemed against you.

You do not exist.
You have been invented by the delusional arrogance.

How much do I owe you!

You raised me to a new rank by sponging me clean
rough, throwing me into my true battlefield,
ceding me the weapons that triumph abandons.

You have led me by the hand to the only water that reflects me.
Because of you I don’t know the anguish of playing a role,
keep myself on a step by force, climb with my own efforts,
fight the hierarchies, inflate myself to bursting.

You have made me humble, silent and rebellious.
I do not sing to you for what you are, but for what you have not left me
be. For not giving me another life. For having stuck to me.

You have given me only nakedness.

It is true that you taught me harshly, and you brought the cautery yourself!
but you also gave me the joy of not fearing you.

Thank you for taking thickness from me in exchange for a thick letter.

Thanks to you, who have deprived me of swellings.

Thank you for the wealth to which you have forced me.

Thank you for building my home with mud.

Thanks for taking me away.

Thank you.



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